T.S. Eliot said that April is the cruelest month, but many would
legitimately counter that February actually takes that dubious honor,
with its bone-chilling cold and monochromatic gray skies leading the
weary soul to lust for spring and the scent of fresh blooms. If you
aren’t lucky enough to be going south this winter you can step into an
ersatz spring at the Flower, Garden & Outdoor Living Show of New
Jersey, held Thursday through Sunday, February 17 through 20, at the
New Jersey Convention Center in Edison. Mary Jo Codey, wife of acting
governor Richard J. Codey, will cut the ribbon on Thursday at 11 a.m.
The third annual show will feature hundreds of exhibitors offering
ideas and materials for stylish outdoor living, from tablecloths from
Provence and limited edition porcelain collectibles to outdoor
furniture, gardening tools, and entertaining accessories.
Award-winning horticulturists, gardening, and culinary experts will
also be on hand to tell you how to get the most out of your garden –
one seminar is called "How to Throw the Perfect Outdoor Party." Chef
Jim Weaver from Tre Piani in Princeton will speak about the Slow Food
movement and give a food demonstration and tasting (see sidebar).
The centerpiece of the event, of course, is the flowers, thousands of
blooming plants creating a visual and olfactory experience that
promises to take attendees far, far away from chilly landscape of
winter. This year’s theme is "The Art of the Garden," which celebrates
gardening as an art form – with the idea that the natural colors and
shapes of flowers and plants are to a gardener what brushes and paints
are to artists. Thirteen landscape designers from throughout the state
have been chosen to interpret that theme by creating elaborate
displays for a juried competition in several categories, including
best educational display, best interpretations of the theme, and most
One of the featured designers is Ash’s Flower Farm, which has four
locations in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, including Pennington,
Hillsborough, and New Hope. Though his family has been growing flowers
in the area for over 100 years, owner Ron Ash started the business
back in the 1980s as a way to pay for his education as a finance and
administration major at Rider University. "He would go to flea markets
and sell plants to raise some spare cash. The next thing you know he
needed a place to hold his plants and that was the start of the
Pennington location," says Alex Salvi, sales and marketing manager at
Ash’s. The family business, 20 years later, is still flourishing,
offering full service flower and garden centers – and providing
landscape design services. Though they also supply landscapers, about
90 percent of the business is direct to homeowners.
Ash grew up in Vineland, New Jersey, learning about plants from his
father and grandfather, who showed his flowers at the renowned
Philadelphia Flower Show. Ash’s sister, Lisa Miccolis, is manager of
the Hillsborough location; his brother, Gary Ash, is manager of the
Columbus location; and Pat Miccolis, his mother, is the head of the
container garden division. Even while Ash is preparing for the New
Jersey Flower Show, he is also preparing to show for the fourth year
at the Philadelphia Flower Show in March.
Salvi says the flower shows help Ash’s hit their target market even
before the spring rush. "At the shows, we are right where our
customers are going to be, and if a gardener hasn’t met us yet, this
is where they can. It’s a visual resume. Sure, we can pass out
brochures and cards. But we can also showcase what types of flowers we
carry, the kinds of things we are capable of doing. It’s a spectacular
Ash’s Flower Farm captured second place last year at the New Jersey
show in the People’s Choice awards category. Salvi says the
Marketplace, where hundreds of exhibitors sell their wares right on
the spot, presents another opportunity for Ash’s to sell cut flowers
and potted plants and get out the word about the quality of their
Ash’s display garden for the show is called "Glassroots Gardening,"
which mixes plants with handcrafted glass artwork. "We chose glass
because it seemed like the most natural art form to fit into the
garden," says Salvi.
On producer MAC Events’ website, www.macevents.com, "Glassroots
Gardening" gets this colorful description: "The natural beauty of
plants will work in concert with elegant artistry to create an exhibit
to remember. Handcrafted glass artwork will be the feature of this
magnificent showcase garden. It all starts with the plants. A
selection of rare and unusual dwarf conifers will provide accent
throughout the landscape. Tropical flowers will delight the senses.
Colorful annuals and perennials will be seen throughout the exhibit.
And a beautiful selection of flowering bulbs will remind you that
spring is right around the corner. Lastly, reclaimed artistic glass
pieces placed throughout the garden will be the feature you go home
Salvi says one of the biggest trends in gardening right now is the
idea of creating an outdoor living space. "It’s not just about
landscape beds any more, or putting up a tree. It’s creating another
room, an extension of your house. People are building gardens in
outdoor spaces that fit their lifestyle and comfort level." He says
the trend has grown out of the post 9/11 world. "People just want to
stay home and nest, and creating a beautiful outdoor living space is
part of that trend. According to a recent leisure activities study
gardening is now the number one hobby in America with 85 million
American households taking part. Gardening is hot."
People are also taking the idea of the garden as art one step further
by integrating statuary and sculpture into their gardens. Salvi says
one of the fastest growing market segments is container gardening,
putting a medley of plants into decorative pots. While the concept of
container gardening isn’t new, Salvi says people are now doing it more
and more, with increasing creativity. "It’s great because you don’t
need a big space. Even if you live in a New York townhouse you can
have a beautiful container garden. It’s not sticking one thing into a
pot, it’s a combination of plants, an arrangement."
Container gardening is one of Ash’s Flower Farm’s specialties. "You
won’t find many retail gardening outlets with a division devoted to
container gardening," says Salvi. "You can come here, buy something,
take it home, leave it inside for a couple of weeks, then in the
Salvi recommends the New Jersey Flower and Garden and Outdoor Living
Show for anyone who is tired of winter, has cabin fever, and needs to
get out of the house. "If you’re a gardener you’ll have 13 of the best
showing you what’s new and exciting in gardening, plus hundreds of
vendors showing you how you can get the most out of your garden.
You’re only two or three weeks from digging in your garden so start
early, get ideas, see what the best of the best are doing."
He has these tips for getting the most out of your visit to the show:
1. The ideal time is to go during a weekday afternoon. It gets very
crowded on the weekend and evenings.
2. Bring your gardening questions for the experts. If you can, bring
clippings of plants you are having a hard time with.
3. Bring a camera and get ideas.
4. Bring extra money. The Marketplace showcases the latest and most
exciting varieties of plant materials.
"We’re specialists in flower show presentations so this is a great
platform for us to go and work," says Salvi. "We put thousands of
dollars into putting forth our display but we get every penny back in
the exposure and word-of-mouth advertisement."
2005 Flower, Garden & Outdoor Living Show of New Jersey, February
17-20, New Jersey Convention Center, Edison. Call 1-800-332-3976 or
Slow in the Kitchen
‘If there’s free food to be had, you can pretty much count on a crowd
gathering," predicts Jim Weaver. The executive chef and co-owner of
Tre Piani in Princeton Forrestal Village will conduct a food
demonstration and tasting at the Flower, Garden & Outdoor Living Show
of New Jersey on Saturday, February 19, at 1 p.m.
Weaver is founder of the central New Jersey chapter of Slow Food USA,
an international organization that preserves and protects local foods.
"We’re trying to promote the idea of the table as a source of
pleasure, something Americans have gotten away from," says Weaver, a
Princeton resident who graduated from the Morristown-Beard School in
1981, then studied hotel and restaurant management at New Hampshire
College. "The supermarket culture dictates what farmers are going to
grow. People will buy things that look the same and have a longer
shelf life. Society’s obsession with fast food has meant that farmers
can’t afford to grow quality produce." Yet the most selective chefs
want only the freshest and best. Weaver has been a long-time advocate
of using locally grown ingredients as he does in his own award-winning
dishes. "Slow Food is out to save small farmers, critical in a state
like New Jersey," he says.
Weaver says he hasn’t decided what he will cook at the show on
Saturday – maybe seafood, definitely locally-grown greenhouse
microgreens, and baby shoots of different lettuces, herbs, and
vegetables with an intense flavor. "I’m not much of a gardener myself.
I can cook it but I can’t grow it," he says.
Slow Food USA runs the Ark Project that identifies endangered foods,
then cultivates a niche market for them. Weaver cites the largely
unknown heritage breed turkey, now raised at the Griggstown Quail
Farm. "Our movement found small poultry farmers committed to raising
these birds and promised we would help presell them. It’s not your
supermarket broad-breasted white turkey, genetically engineered to
grow faster. They’re expensive, $75 each, but after you taste it, you
will never look at another turkey again." Weaver says the species has
gone from endangered to watch status in just one year. "It’s ironic to
save a species by eating it but that’s what we did."
He says what started as a small grassroots movement has now created a
snowball effect with the power of universities, restaurant
associations, and the Department of Agriculture getting behind local
farmers and setting up local distribution networks. "It’s not just
about eating the food," he says, "it’s about asking where it comes
from and using products that come from responsible sources."
"Slow Food," talk and tasting, Jim Weaver, chef of Tre Piani, at the
Flower, Garden & Outdoor Living Show of New Jersey, Saturday, February
19, 1 p.m., New Jersey Convention Center, seminar room A. Call
800-332-3976 or visit www.macevents.com.